Rules and Leash Training Help Toby Stop Being Dog Reactive on Walks

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 29, 2016


Toby (left) is a seven-year-old Maltese / Yorkie mix who lives in Los Angeles with Shelby, a five-year-old Poodle / Jack Russell mix. Their guardians set up a dog behavior training session with me to stop both dogs from getting over excited, but the priority was to get Toby to stop being dog aggressive on walks.

I got a pretty good feel for both dogs and their personalities when I arrived for the session.

It’s not very uncommon for dog guardians to pick up their dog or pull them back away from the door when they are reactive. But as I mentioned in the above video, this can often exasperate the situation and make things worse. I wish more dog trainers were aware of this as its a common problem.

Each time that Toby barked at me he would immediately back up a step or two. This is a classic sign of a dog that is coming from a place of insecurity. I was hoping the Toby would settle down on his own, but after a couple of minutes of barking I changed strategies and pulled out a leash stop dog barking.

I have found that most insecure dogs will stop barking when they are placed on a leash as they only feel comfortable barking at someone if they are at a distance or able to move away after each bark. As soon as I placed Toby on the leash, the barking stopped.

I sat down with the dog’s guardian to discuss what she wanted to accomplish during the session. In the course of this conversation I learned that the dogs did not have many rules. This can often give a dog the impression that it has the same authority as the humans. This can also often give the dog the idea that they need to protect or be possessive of their humans.

It’s very likely that the lack of rules was a contributing factor to Toby’s aggressive reaction towards other dogs.

I suggested a number of rules that the guardians can incorporate to help the dog start to see and identify as being in more of a follower position. Each time the guardians correct the dogs or enforce these new boundaries, the dogs will see them as an authority figure.

I also noticed that the guardian would pet the dogs anytime they did something wrong or if they asked her for affection. When a dog is able to tell us what to do, and we comply on a regular basis, this can give the dog the impression it has more authority than we do. Or if we pet them when doing something we don’t like, we are actually rewarding them instead of telling them we don’t like what they are doing.

To help the guardian change the current leader follower dynamic in the home, I suggested that she start practicing my petting with a purpose strategy.

It’s going to be a bit of a challenge for the humans to not pet their dogs willy-nilly as they are now because of how cute they are. But if the humans can get into a habit of asking the dog to sit, come or laydown before they pet them, they will be practicing a mini dog obedience training session every time they do.

Due to his behavior when seeing other dogs on walks, I wanted to give Toby’s guardian a way of redirecting his attention to give her more control. I pulled out some high-value training treats and then demonstrated something I like to call the focus exercise.

It’s going to be important for the guardian to practice this exercise inside quite a bit, until the dog consistently replies to the command word focus. The mistake that many people make is attempting to utilize this command before fully developing it in their home in a calm and controlled environment.

Once the dog has mastered the focus exercise inside, then the guardian will be able to start making it more challenging. I outlined how she can do that in the following video.

The focus exercise seems very simple, but don’t let that fool you; if sufficiently practiced and mastered, it is extremely effective.

For most dogs, simply being able to redirect their attention is all that is needed (well, I should say combined with rules and discipline at home). But in some cases, we need to change how a dog see’s and perceives other dogs in order to stop them from reacting so aggressively.

I spent the next couple of minutes going over a counter conditioning exercise that Toby’s guardians may need to utilize if the focus exercise does not solve the problem.

Counterconditioning is a very effective treatment but needs to be done in a very methodical fashion. The mistake that most people make is pushing too far, too fast. The key is to go at the dog’s pace; not putting more on its plate then it is able to handle.

Now that we had given the dogs and guardian some tools to work with, were ready to head outside and put them to a real-world application.

Before we headed outside, I went over some basic leash training and showed the guardians how we can use a Martingale collar with the special twist of the leash to give them more control and stop pulling on the leash. I also explained how we need to stop and wait when the dogs get over excited during he leashing up process.

Many people rush on through when the dog starts to get over excited. But the energy a dog has inside the house before the walk is usually the same energy you will have on the leash. Pausing or stopping the leashing process the instant the dog starts to get excited takes some patience, but pays off big time on the walk itself.

It was great to see how quickly the Martingale collars and calmer energy affected the dogs walking behavior. I caught the guardian smiling as she walked down the street with both of her dogs in an almost perfect heel.

Despite the fact that we had only introduced the focus exercise an hour earlier, it was already having a positive impact on Toby’s behavior. In a number of situations we were able to get him to look to us by using the technique. Once the guardian spends a week or more practicing the focus exercise, she should have a tremendous amount of control while out on walks.

But that is for tomorrow. I wanted to coach the guardian through some more challenging leash training while I was still there.

Now the activities captured in the above video was a very difficult situation for a reactive dog to participate in. Especially without having a redirect or other training techniques in place. Although Toby did react to the dog behind the fence, in other situations he was able to ignore dogs completely where as before he would’ve been barking, lunging and pulling out the leash to get to the other dog.

By the end of the session, Toby and Shelby were noticeably calmer and easier to lead. They had started to follow the new rules that we had introduced and the guardian was utilizing the new nonverbal communication methods to great success.

It’s going to take a little bit of practice at the focus exercise and regular enforcement of the new rules and boundaries before Toby and Shelby’s unwanted behaviors stop for good. But based on the progress that we made during our single session, I am very confident in a successful outcome.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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